A revitalized and bubbly Governor Ali Hassan Joho of Mombasa County jetted back from America some days ago after a two-week long meeting of the Strong Cities Network (SCN) that brought together mayors, municipal-level policy makers and practitioners.
The SCN was launched in 2015 with the aim of “building social cohesion and community resilience to counter violent extremism in all of its forms.”
This year’s assembly was the first for Joho. At the Washington DC meeting, he was incorporated into the International Steering Committee. Members to the committee were not selected for their knowledge, skills, or credentials in fighting violent extremism, but for purposes of achieving regional balance.
Last year, the meeting was officiated by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of State Kerry. This year, the Washington DC parley was attended by low to middle level officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
For Joho, the meeting was not as important as the visit itself. It was a personal victory for a man who in 2010 appeared on the US list as one of six Kenyan Members of Parliament allegedly involved in drug trafficking. Therefore, no one expected him to ever step in the United States. But he did.
Interestingly, Joho has been attracting a lot of interest at home in recent months not only from his opponents in Jubilee but from within his own party, the Orange Democratic Party. While the former sees him as a spoiler of votes in a traditionally opposition stronghold, the latter views him as the man to watch beyond 2017.
Joho is a self-made politician and a millionaire who sprang out of a garbage collection business. He is popular among his party supporters on the island but is yet to reach the level of a Coast political kingpin – as some of his supporters claim he is.
For now, he is only a local politician with a local agenda who has built a name for himself nationwide through some crude political maneuvering.
Politically, the Kenyan Coast is a highly complex region because of its unique demographics. Residents there come from all ethnic groups in the country making it difficult for anyone to make a sensible election prediction.
But no one has controlled the politics of the region without a grip of the Mijikenda, the largest cluster of communities in the region.
Joho’s ethnic origin is not from any of the nine Mijikenda tribes. It has Arab connections. His support in the city comes from descendants of past Arab sultans, former slave masters, and upcountry supporters subscribing to his Orange Democratic Movement.
As Governor, his boisterous persona does not match the subterranean conditions in the coastal city. Anyone approaching the island is met with streets blighted with trash. The place literally stinks. When it rains the island turns into a lake with floating raw sewage and murk; and during dry weather it turns into a carpet of dust. Most of the roads under his jurisdiction are in a pathetic state.
Since he became Governor, Joho has tried but failed to rein in widespread corruption in the county. He has sacked a few low level staff but sleaze dominates his County Assembly and the Executive. A frequent shortage of water in the city has become a chronic problem, while youth unemployment has festered into a ripe boil entrapping thousands of young people into a net of illicit drugs consumption.
His Vision 2035 supposedly intended to transform Mombasa into some kind of “Dubai” with high rise buildings and rolling highways remains a dream because of intractable land issues stemming from historical injustices and the absence of sound ideas and visions.
Joho’s other dream is to vie for the presidency in 2022. While it is not wrong to dream, he must first overcome the hurdle that is before him now; that of being re-elected in the August polls.
Mombasa watchers say Joho only won last time because he had a Mijikenda partner as a running mate. Now, with three other non-Mijikenda contenders on the ballot – all scrambling for Mijikenda poll partners and votes – the stakes are high for the Governor seat in Mombasa.
My view is that Joho must move beyond bluster and platitudes if he wants to advance politically and compete in the top league. He must work towards expanding his base from the townspeople to the Mijikenda voters on the fringes of the island and beyond.
He cannot rely on Raila Odinga‘s supporters. He must acquire his own. Only then can he have a chance to play in the First Division.
Otherwise, his dreams will remain just that: dreams.
And that is my say.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.